07/02/2009, 00.00
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For Indian Church homosexuality is not a crime but cannot become a “social norm”

by Nirmala Carvalho
Delhi High Court decriminalises homosexuality by repealing statute in Indian Penal Code that defined it as a crime. Harsh criticism comes from India’s Muslims who accuse the government of giving in to Western decadence. The spokesman for the India Church says that trying to redefine the family will undermine the bases of society.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The Indian “Church agrees that it is a right and appropriate to remove the stigma of ‘criminality’ associated with homosexuality. At the same time, it cannot agree that it is a socially normal form of behaviour,” said Fr Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), in an interview with AsiaNews. He was responding to a decision by the Delhi's High Court which declared a statute in Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code unconstitutional, thus paving the way for the decriminalisation of homosexuality between consenting adults. For their part Hindu and Muslim religious leaders reacted negatively to the court’s decision, saying it is a betrayal of Indian culture.

They blame the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the court’s decision, which came as a response to a petition by a gay rights association, suggesting that Union authorities were planning to repeal Section 277.

“Homosexuals should not be thrown in jail or discriminated on the basis of their orientation,” said Father Babu. “However, their behaviour cannot be considered normal. The facts are that homosexuality is against the natural order and anything that goes against the natural order does not last over time and will have a negative impact on the lives of people and society.”

Never the less, the CBCI spokesman is “rather surprised by the Delhi High Court because in a society like that of India, which is very traditional and holds traditional family values in high esteem, this kind of ruling is bound to bring some surprises.”

“The Church has consistently opposed gay relationships, gay marriages and homosexual activities, for the reason that the Church considers the ‘family’ as something sacred and as the basic unit of society,” Father Joseph explained.

“A family is composed of a man and a woman who share a complimentary nature and through whom a new generation is brought forth to be sustained in society. This basic unit of society, namely the family, cannot be violated.”

For him “homosexuals or those who support homosexual demands want to redefine the family, something which cannot be sustained on the long run.”

Indeed “the CBCI’s position is quite clear. First, we cannot approve of such behaviour. Secondly, we cannot accept that a form of behaviour by a miniscule section of society can be accepted as a ‘social norm’, because this will have a negative influence on the lives and behaviour of people and might open the floodgates for licentious conduct.”

Responding to those who claim that the Court’s decision is meant to protect individual rights, Father Joseph said that “society has the right to consider the ethical and moral aspects in an individual’s life. Legality is one thing, but there is also something more in human life than legality like ethics and morality. It is on this basis that the Church finds this judgement unacceptable.”

This said the Court’s decision has found its harshest critics among Muslims. A dozen Muslim religious leaders in fact issued a statement saying that “the legalisation of homosexuality is an attack on Indian religious and moral values.”

Some important Islamic organisations like Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind said that the Court’s ruling was tantamount to giving in to Western cultural decadence which creates “sexual anarchy”.

Along with harsh reactions among some leaders of the Deobandi community for whom “homosexuality is an offence under Sharia law and is haram (banned) in Islam,” there are more moderate views among some Muslim intellectuals.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Asghar Ali Engineer, a Muslim scholar well-known in India for his campaign in favour of human rights in Islam, said that “homosexuality is an undesirable act and a sin, but not a crime.”

“The Qur‘an condemns homosexuality but does not prescribes any punishment for it,” he explained. In any event “there is no question of legalising homosexuality” because all the law states is that “homosexuality is not a crime.”

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